10 gorgeous European castles, 10 unforgettable experiences.
The fairy-tale retreat that inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle
Enter a world of storybook fantasies at Neuschwanstein Castle in Southern Germany. Perched high upon a peak in the Bavarian mountains, it was built as a private retreat for the reclusive King Ludwig II. However, within seven weeks of his death in 1886, it was opened to the public and now attracts 1.4 million visitors a year to tour its perfect romanticism. Make sure to escape the crowd and spend time admiring its architecture from afar.
Mont Saint-Michel, France
An island fortress and monastery rising from the sea off France’s northern coast
As the tide goes out and the dark sands of Normandy’s coast reflect the sunlight, pilgrims make their way out to the ancient fortified monastery at Mont Saint-Michel. Technically the Mont Saint-Michel isn’t a castle, it’s a fort with an Abbey. It was built by monks after one of them had a dream with Archangel Gabriel.
When the tide rolls back in, the seas surrounding the 1,000-year-old walls cut off the island from the mainland. This inevitability, paired with the dramatic gothic architecture, draws millions of visitors each year. Take a nighttime tour in the summer with musical interludes and lighting effects.
Château de Chambord, France
French Renaissance architecture in a country setting
Combining French medieval forms with Renaissance styling and construction techniques, the Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable buildings in France. King François I commissioned the magnificent retreat in 1519. Construction continued throughout his life to 1547, and technically it has never been completed. However, descending the Château’s double-helix staircase into the Grand Hall, it’s hard to imagine how it could be improved.
Prague Castle, Czech Republic
The pride of Bohemia and the largest ancient castle in the world
Prague Castle is the embodiment of European architectural history, housing the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque Basilica of St. George, and several palaces, gardens and defense towers in Baroque and Renaissance styles. Most of the castle areas are open to tourists. However, the castle is still the region’s seat of power, serving as the office and residence for the President of the Czech Republic.
Stolzenfels Castle, Germany
An icon of the Upper Middle Rhine region and UNESCO World Heritage site
It is difficult to pinpoint a single castle to visit along Germany’s castle-lined Rhine River, but Schloss Stolzenfels stands out in the heart of the 65 km stretch now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located near the town of Koblenz, and built in the 13th century, it had fallen into ruin before Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William revived it in 1823. A thorough revitalization of the castle was completed in 2011. There are no English-language tours, but the decorations are beautiful and the view of the river unparalleled.
Château de Chillon, Switzerland
An architectural jewel overlooking the blue waters of Lake Geneva
Visit a castle so beautiful that it has inspired artists and writers for centuries, showing up in works by Lord Byron, Victor Hugo, Gustave Courbet and others. The artistic tradition continues today with impressive rotating exhibits and guest speakers like George R.R. Martin, who spoke at the castle in 2014. Enjoy a glass of wine from the adjoining vineyard overlooking the lake.
Hotel de la Cité, France
Live like a king in an ancient walled city
This five-star luxury hotel is in the ancient fortified city of Carcassonne, France. The history of the buildings goes back over 1,000 years, but the hotel was established just over 100 years ago. Lounge by the pool, surrounded by ivy-covered pillars and walls, or climb to the top floor to look out over the medieval town and the arched bridge leading away.
Windsor Castle, England
The longest consecutively occupied palace in Europe and home to Queen Elizabeth II
Windsor Castle has been the home of 39 monarchs, and the Queen often spends her weekends in its art-filled halls. Located just outside London, Windsor is an easy and fascinating day trip. The State Apartments offer a glimpse into the Castle’s changing styles of art and architecture dating back to its initial construction in the 11th century. Be sure to visit St. George’s Chapel, England’s greatest Gothic church, and treat yourself to a stroll down the Long Walk, a three-mile tree-lined avenue that runs straight through the grounds.
Alnwick Castle, England
The royal family home that served as the set of Harry Potter Films
Alnwick has been home to the Percy family for over 700 years, but today it is perhaps best known as Hogwarts from the Harry Potter films. The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland still live here, but most of the building and grounds are open to the public. Make sure to check the castle’s website to see if there are events or film shoots scheduled during your visit.
Alcázar of Segovia, Spain
A fortress filled with centuries of art and artifacts
The spires of Alcázar rise from the craggy mountains of central Spain, their elegance surpassed only by the luxurious interior that offers visitors a tour through Spanish history. Originally an Arab fortress, the castle has been everything from an imperial residence to a prison and a college. The garden maze is a sight to behold from above, and be sure to visit the ancient aqueduct.
Source: Taste of Life